For this week’s Muffin Monday, I decided to go with something festive since it’s Mardi Gras on Tuesday, so naturally, King Cake! Now, the last time I had a King Cake was in middle school French class, so my memory of them has more or less disintegrated. According to the internet, they’re basically a giant cinnamon roll sometimes also filled with fruit and cream cheese and then covered in a simple glaze and colored sugar. I remember them being good, but pretty dense and heavy, and I knew that’s not how I wanted this muffin version to be.

I decided to go with a basic muffin batter lightly spiced with cinnamon and then filled with both cream cheese and sauteed apples. Then I topped them off with a simple glaze and yellow, purple, and green sanding sugar.

The end result has all the festiveness and deliciousness of a King Cake but is lighter and won’t weigh you down the way a typical King Cake does. Give up anything else for Lent, just not these muffins.

King Cake muffins

These are really, really pushing the boundaries of what we call “muffins”, but who really cares about semantics anyways?

King Cake muffin

It’s like Mardi Gras – IN YOUR MOUTH

King Cake Muffins (32 of 750)

Basic Muffin Batter
Adapted from “Best Basic Muffins” in  750 Best Muffin Recipes by Camilla Saulsbury
Makes 48 mini muffins

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

Apple-Walnut Filling

  • 1 apple, peeled and diced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
  • Splash of dark rum (optional)

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • Reserved liquid from apple filling
  1. To make the muffins: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until fluffy and pale yellow.
  3. With the mixer on low speed, beat in flour mixture alternately with milk, making three additions of flour and two of milk, until just blended.
  4. To make the apple-walnut filling: Melt the butter and brown sugar over medium-high heat in a small saucepan. Add the diced apples and rum and cook until apples are tender but not mush, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. Turn off heat and let mixture cool. Stir in chopped toasted walnuts. The apples will release a bit of liquid after you cook them (just a couple tablespoons) – pour into a separate container and set aside to mix in with the cream cheese.
  6. To make the cream cheese filling: Combine softened cream cheese with brown sugar and leftover apple juice mixture. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.
  7. To assemble the muffins: Spoon just enough muffin batter to cover the bottom of the muffin tins. Add a dollop of the cream cheese mixture, then a spoonful of the apple-walnut mixture. Press down on the filling with a spoon to flatten it. Spoon enough muffin batter to cover the filling completely.
  8. Bake at 375F for 15 to 25 minutes or until muffins have puffed up and are beginning to turn golden-brown around the edges. Let cool completely.
  9. To decorate: Dip tops of muffins in sugar glaze (1 cup powdered sugar + 2 tbsp water + splash vanilla, whisked until smooth) and then top with colored sanding sugar.
  10. Store at room temperature in airtight containers.

Mardi Gras or not, these are, hands down, one of the greatest things I have ever made. They’re so light and fluffy, and the apples, all tart and spicy and sweet, are killer when combined with the tangy cream cheese. The glaze on top gives them an extra layer of sweetness and the colored sugar isn’t just for decoration – it adds a great crunch as well.

These muffins taste best the day after baking because it gives the flavors time to really meld and come together. Wait until the last possible minute to glaze and decorate though – if you don’t, the glaze will get absorbed into the muffin and the sugar on top will melt and bleed into the glaze. On the plus side, when the glaze is absorbed, it keeps the muffins extra moist and tender, but the trade-off is that the colors won’t be as vibrant. I, ahem, speak from experience on this. Do as I say, not as I do, mmkay?

There are a lot of flavors in these muffins, but they all work just perfectly together. That said, you could easily just go with either the cream cheese or the apple filling if you don’t want to go with both. To make it extra cinnamony, you could fill them with a cinnamon roll filling as well. Maybe throw in some pecans and raisins. And you can never go wrong with chocolate…

Look, you might as well just load these up with everything delicious and treat yourself like a king. After all, winter lent is coming.

Cream cheese filling

Cream cheese filling in a messy kitchen

Cream cheese and apple filling

Don’t skimp on the apples!

Homemade colored sanding sugar

Raw sugar + gel food coloring

Colored sanding sugar

= homemade colored sanding sugar (say goodbye to buying overpriced sugar at the grocery store!)

Decorating station

Dear Kitchen, I apologize for the mess (and what a mess it was)

King Cake muffins

Laissez les bon temps rouler!